Year A, The Second Sunday in Easter
April 16, 2023
Year A: Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9;John 20:19-31
Doubt can be about anything. We may ask ourselves: am I smart enough? Am I nice enough? Does anyone want to be my friend? Do I have anything to offer to the (fill in the blank)?
Doubt can be paralyzing. Doubt can keep us from using our God-given talents to make our unique contribution to the world. Doubt can keep us from the best possible relationships with family members and friends. Doubt can keep us from helping others.
Today, we encounter a story that has become synonymous with doubt and disbelief – the story of “Doubting Thomas.”
Jesus appears to the disciples after his resurrection, revealing to them his pierced hands and side. Yet, Thomas was not present during this first encounter. When the other disciples later share their experience with him, he says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”1
We often judge people by one mistake. We never let them forget it. Often, we never let the world forget it. This is what happened to Thomas. He showed great faith many times, but we remember him because of his doubt. Today when someone is skeptical, we call that person a “doubting Thomas.”
Thomas was indeed a skeptic. When Jesus sought to assure the disciples of eternal life earlier in the Gospel of John by saying “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also…”. Thomas’ response was “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”2
Thomas could not accept things without questioning them. He was a realist who wanted to be sure.
Haven’t we all doubted at some time? Even the Psalmist cried out, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? This verse speaks to so many who have experienced doubt in their faith, as they may feel that God is distant or absent.
Thomas famously doubted the resurrection of Jesus as we heard in the Gospel, but he is a powerful example of how doubt can be overcome through faith. There is a difference between honest doubt and people who just do not want to believe. Thomas wanted to believe. Jesus did not condemn Thomas for his doubts. Jesus knew that once Thomas reasoned through his doubt, he would be among the surest disciples.
And Thomas’ doubts vanished in the presence of Christ. His confession of “My Lord, My God”3 was the most advanced made by any of the disciples during the time they were with Jesus. The great doubter attained a faith that became strong and vibrant. Tradition has it that he took the gospel to India. Thomas was one of the most steadfast and loyal apostles among the twelve.4
So, I suggest that we might shift our perspective and see the beauty in Thomas’ questions, referring to him as “Questioning Thomas.”
For centuries, Thomas has been portrayed as a symbol of doubt, often with negative connotations. Instead, I invite you to look beyond this label and recognize the immense value in his questions because it is through his questioning that Thomas ultimately arrives at a profound and genuine expression of faith.
Questioning is an essential part of the human experience, and it has played a critical role in the development of our faith. The Bible is full of stories of doubting people.
Abraham and Sarah both laughed when God told them they would have a son in their old age.5 Moses doubted when God told him to go to Pharoah and bring the Israelites out of Egypt.6
Mother Teresa, C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Pope Francis are among the more notable people in history who have openly expressed their doubts about faith. Pope Francis has often touched on doubt and faith – “Who among us has not experienced insecurity, loss and even doubts in their journey of faith?… We’ve all experienced this…it is part of the journey of faith, it is part of our lives.”7
One of the great 19th-century preachers, Charles Sturgeon, once said, “When a man says, ‘I never doubt,’ it is quite time for us to doubt him.”8
In Traveling Mercies, writer Anne Lamott says, “My coming to faith did not start with a leap but rather a series of staggers from what seemed like one safe place to another.”9
In each of these stories, questioning becomes an opportunity for growth, leading to a deeper understanding of God’s nature and purpose. These great heroes of faith experienced doubt. However, through their doubt, they were able to grow in faith and trust in God.
Questions and doubts about faith are a natural part of the faith journey and can even help to strengthen one’s faith. That is why I prefer “Questioning Thomas” to “Doubting Thomas.
This shift is important because it reminds us that faith and doubt are not mutually exclusive. Embracing questions is not a sign of weakness or a lack of faith; rather, it is an acknowledgment that we are finite beings seeking to understand an infinite God.
As we journey through our spiritual lives, we will undoubtedly face moments of uncertainty and doubt. But it is in these moments that we can follow the example of Questioning Thomas, seeking the truth with courage and humility. In doing so, we not only deepen our faith but also open ourselves up to a more profound connection with our Lord.
Furthermore, the story of Questioning Thomas encourages us to cultivate an atmosphere of openness and acceptance within our faith community. As we encounter others who grapple with questions and doubts, we are called to walk beside them with love and understanding.
Do you have doubts? I do. Keep doing the best you know how. Stay faithful. Keep trusting, following, serving, praying, and asking. God will reveal God’s self. God will show you the mark of the nails.
Remember that our faith journey is a lifelong process of seeking, questioning, and growing. Never shy away from the questions that arise in your hearts and minds but instead approach them with humility and trust in the One who invites us to seek and find.
I pray that this community may be a place where we can walk alongside one another, in both moments of certainty and doubt, guided by the example of Thomas. May we embrace the questions and continue our journey toward understanding.
And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all as we continue on this path of exploration and growth. Amen.